Some play areas are really just for babies and toddlers. So please take your giant 12-year-old self out. Thanks.

Can We Please Take the Pre-Teens Out of the Kiddie Play Space?

Some play areas are really just for babies and toddlers. So please take your giant 12-year-old self out. Thanks.

By Marisa Svalstedt

Most malls have them. I can’t say I love my child playing in the “germ pit,” a.k.a. the kiddie play area, but on those days I can’t possibly exit the mall without it passing through my toddler’s line of vision, I’m there. Whatever. It makes my three-year-old happier than a pig in mud, and after a trip to themall, a place where my child is somehow compelled to touch everything in sight, there is usually a bath in her not-so-distant future.

I sit on one of the benches that extends along every side of the enclosure and watch the children smiling wide, running free in this designated Munchkinland. Then I see them, the giants in Lilliput, the kids who stick out like sore thumbs as they are not inches, but feet taller than the general population here. Though technically still kids, they are clearly approaching puberty sooner rather than later.

There they are, surfing down the two-foot slide, jumping over small children sitting on bunny statues and occasionally landing on a tiny hand or foot as the little ones scatter like mice from cats in their wake. I watch parents of toddlers shooting scathing glances and biting their lips to keep from yelling at these kids who aren’t theirs, while attempting to sooth their own hurt, crying child, while those parents exiled to the crawlers region try to set up a human shield so their precious 6-month-old cargo isn’t trodden by large, clumsy feet. Then I see them leaving to sit just a few feet away with…wait for it… their parents! That’s right. Some of their parents are only a few measly feet away, enjoying a coffee, perhaps encouraging this arrangement for the sake of a few moments of not being nagged to purchase the latest video game.

I get the need for quiet time; trust me, I do, but what happened to taking them to the park? What happened to dropping them at a movie or a skating rink? These kids are like the ones I used to see roaming the mall all day long, pestering the eighteen-year-olds working at Hot Topic and Pacific Sunwear. Now, I haven’t worked in the mall for close to twenty years, but back then the big kids were hanging out, coming up with witty one-liners to say to cute girls, waiting to slip CDs into empty pockets when managers weren’t looking, and battling gamers in the Time Out arcade.

How is jumping down a barely thigh-high slide any comparison to that? What am I missing here? Has the magic of the internet killed the necessity for meeting members of the opposite sex while supposedly shopping for flip flops? Has new technology coupled with the disappearance of wide-leg jeans taken the thrill out of trying to sneak things out of the shops unnoticed? Perhaps the serious lack of arcades is the reason behind these kids, stuck in between childhood and the teenage rebellion, flocking to the kiddie space like Peter Pan to Neverland. 

So times have changed. Things that used to make visiting the mall so great in the 90s have lost their luster, or become lost all together. Perhaps these bigger kids are having trouble finding ways to occupy their time, and the kiddie area offers at least some degree of enjoyment.  I get it. I’m not trying to be a total jerk. I’m in my thirties, I still love jumping on the swings at the playground, but there are just some things I recognize as having long outgrown. No one wants to see their toddler being knocked around like a Koopa in a Super Mario game. It’s just not cool.

Carnivals have height minimums and maximums. I wasn’t allowed on a ride with my daughter because I was too tall, and my daughter threw a downright hissy fit when she couldn’t go on the scrambler. Heck, even the trampoline parks have designated spots based on height so the little ones aren’t intimidated or crushed by the bouncing stampede. It’s a matter of safety and courtesy. Maybe it’s time these germ pits finally post some necessary height maximums, as the draw for those older than grade school is apparently far stronger than originally anticipated. Then we can avoid seeing any more parents yanking their crawling 9-month-olds out from the shadow of the random pre-teen about to fall on them.

And maybe it’s time we brought back the arcades – you know, throw these kids a bone. Just a thought.


About the Author

Marisa Svalstedt is a stay-at-home mom living in Connecticut, with her husband, and their daughter. She received her MA in English from Western Connecticut State. Her writing has been featured on Babble, The Mighty, ParentCo, Her View from Home, and many other publications. In addition to writing she enjoys photography, crochet, and jumping on trampolines.